The immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic affected the business travel industry literally overnight. Suppliers went from highly successful business and revenue models to operating at single-digit percentages. Meanwhile, companies worldwide basically stopped all business travel, meetings, and events — in essence instead of going from zero to sixty in velocity, we experienced the opposite from sixty to almost zero.
The pandemic caught most of us by surprise and clearly many were caught unprepared for the scope and fall out of the pandemic — which also, unfortunately, includes many government officials.
Sadly, when the strategy is to stop and cut until we can figure out what our next moves should be, business and life as we knew it are also put on hold. Because of that strategy, thousands of industry professionals especially on the supplier side have either lost their jobs or are on furlough until business begins to return.
As a former global travel and meetings category leader, I wanted to frame what many friends and former colleagues are experiencing in this pandemic world that we live in today. Similar to what’s happened on the supplier side of our industry, I’m concerned that companies with managed travel and meetings programs may be adopting very short-sighted and dangerous positions about their value and retention of their managed travel/meetings teams by furloughing or eliminating the jobs that manage corporate travel and meetings. The very rationale that “there’s no travel or meetings happening so we don’t need these headcount” is not only faulty but absurd.
Companies may have temporarily suspended travel and meetings, but they still need to plan for what they have to do when it eventually resumes. There’s still a lot to do because of what’s transpired due to COVID-19. The need to provide governance via policies, process, preferred supplier selection, and savings strategies while providing traveler health and safety, Duty of Care considerations along with a decent traveler experience never go away.
In fact all of the above need to be revisited and re-evaluated based on the many changes we expect to happen in the new norm as we begin to exit the shelter in place directives. I would submit that now more than ever, the experience and knowledge of the business travel and meetings industry professionals are even more valuable during COVID-19 than ever before.
Rather than eliminating these roles for short term balance sheet gains, here are 4 areas where travel & meetings teams can be helping now:
- Policy Development for the Return to Business: Travel & meeting professionals are experts at building policies and processes designed for efficiency, but all of those have now been blown up by our new reality. Now is the time to be crafting new business policies, processes, and timeline planning for what things will look like for employees returning to work on-site. What will the new policies be for employees having to return to traveling for business? What will the new requirements be for attending conferences, trade shows, and other larger gatherings? How will the organization monitor and ensure health & safety compliance for all meetings?
- Small Meeting Management: Various studies all point to small meetings being the first to return. Small meetings have long been difficult for organizations to manage due to the fact that planning is highly decentralized. Small meetings are often coordinated by admins or other managers throughout an organization, who won’t use a complex meeting technology solution. Now is the time to put a simple, self-service small meeting solution in place before they come back and the window will have been missed.
- Virtual Meeting Management: A recent survey by Goldspring Consulting found that only 21% of virtual technology spend is selected and managed by travel and meeting teams. While everyone has been making do with existing virtual technology infrastructure, for now, meeting attendees are becoming frustrated with virtual experiences, and organizers are seeking out innovative virtual technology solutions. Who will responsibly source these? Who will evaluate when virtual is sufficient and in-person expenses are required? This domain is largely uncharted and in need of process and best practices.
- New Supplier Sourcing: Lastly with suppliers going out of business and the massive layoffs, this will require a new round of sourcing for preferred suppliers, new sales contacts to engage with and new post-COVID projected corporate volume numbers to include in your RFP. Who will be handling this for your firm if you eliminate the travel/meeting teams? If you completely outsource this work, your supplier partner(s) don’t understand your corporate culture and dynamics for optimal program management and compliance.
In summary, travel/meeting professionals are key vital contributors to their respective companies and the value of their contributions far outweigh any short term cost savings found by eliminating their roles or furloughing them. If companies want a successful and smoother transition for employees coming back to work in the new post COVID world, leveraging their knowledge and skills is essential.